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Theor Biol Med Model. 2006 Dec 15;3:43.

The biological sense of cancer: a hypothesis.

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División Medicina Experimental, Instituto de Investigaciones Hematológicas, Academia Nacional de Medicina de Buenos Aires, Pacheco de Melo 3081, 1425 Buenos Aires, Argentina.



Most theories about cancer proposed during the last century share a common denominator: cancer is believed to be a biological nonsense for the organism in which it originates, since cancer cells are believed to be ones evading the rules that control normal cell proliferation and differentiation. In this essay, we have challenged this interpretation on the basis that, throughout the animal kingdom, cancer seems to arise only in injured organs and tissues that display lost or diminished regenerative ability.


According to our hypothesis, a tumor cell would be the only one able to respond to the demand to proliferate in the organ of origin. It would be surrounded by "normal" aged cells that cannot respond to that signal. According to this interpretation, cancer would have a profound biological sense: it would be the ultimate way to attempt to restore organ functions and structures that have been lost or altered by aging or noxious environmental agents. In this way, the features commonly associated with tumor cells could be reinterpreted as progressively acquired adaptations for responding to a permanent regenerative signal in the context of tissue injury. Analogously, several embryo developmental stages could be dependent on cellular damage and death, which together disrupt the field topography. However, unlike normal structures, cancer would have no physiological value, because the usually poor or non-functional nature of its cells would make their reparative task unattainable.


The hypothesis advanced in this essay might have significant practical implications. All conventional therapies against cancer attempt to kill all cancer cells. However, according to our hypothesis, the problem might not be solved even if all the tumor cells were eradicated. In effect, if the organ failure remained, new tumor cells would emerge and the tumor would reinitiate its progressive growth in response to the permanent regenerative signal of the non-restored organ. Therefore, efficient anti-cancer therapy should combine an attack against the tumor cells themselves with the correction of the organ failure, which, according to this hypothesis, is fundamental to the origin of the cancer.

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